Needs-Based Autism Program To Be Introduced in Ontario

"We heard loud and clear from the autism community that we needed to partner and redesign a program together"

The province is moving forward with a needs-based Autism Program, following significant feedback from Ontarians.

The Ontario Government announced today it is adopting the Ontario Autism Panel’s key recommendations for a needs-based program, recognizing that every family’s needs are different.

“We heard loud and clear from the autism community that we needed to partner and redesign a program together – one that supports the needs of individual children and youth and puts them at the centre of care,” said Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. “The changes we are making address the concerns we’ve heard from families, experts and the autism advisory panel.”

Related: Ontario Autism Panel Agrees That Evidence-Based Care Can’t Be Sacrificed to Trim Wait List

In late October, the Autism Advisory Panel handed down a number of recommendations to improve services and address concerns regarding the province-wide program. A main takeaway is that the panel agrees that evidence-based clinically appropriate care should not be sacrificed at the expense of addressing the waitlist more quickly.

“Over an entire year wasted, a year my child and my family along with tens of thousands will never get back,” said local mom Jessica Knowles, “The PC government has effectively frozen the Ontario Autism Program, telling us it was broken beyond repair, unsustainable. Yet today, without apology or reasonable explanation they have patted themselves on the back for introducing an almost identical program.”

“Our community is desperate for action not more phased-in plans that only buy the government more time while stealing our children’s future potential,” she added.

According to the province, families will have access to the following service pathways in the new program:

  • Core services that include Applied Behaviour Analysis, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and mental health services;
  • Foundational family services for all families in the program, to build their capacity to support their child’s learning and development;
  • Early intervention and school readiness services to help young children access critical services when they will benefit most, and to prepare them to enter school;
  • Urgent and complex needs services to support children and youth who are in service, or are waiting for service and have significant and immediate needs.

“Almost every parent I’ve met has asked for two things: services that address their child’s specific needs, and a plan from their government to get there,” said Smith. “The work has started, and we are continuing to listen to experts and families. Thanks to the panel, we know where we have to go. And we have the right plan, and the right people, to help get us there.”

The first phase of implementation will begin in April 2020, to be followed by additional phases throughout 2020 and 2021.